DUI DEFENSE

Being arrested for drunk driving is an unexpected and often traumatic experience. Individuals charged with or convicted of impaired and intoxicated are often stigmatized and portrayed as irresponsible, dangerous criminals; however, the truth is that the people faced with these charges are often everyday, law-abiding citizens who simply made a mistake. 

There are more arrests in Pennsylvania for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) than any other single category of crimes, with Pennsylvania among the top 15 states for DUI arrest rate.

Many DUI charges are defensible, based on the evidence surrounding your charges and any missteps that may have been made by law enforcement along the way. Let our experienced DUI defense lawyers build a defense and ensure you know what to expect at each step of the legal process.

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FIRST DUI OFFENSE PENALTIES

The severity of a First Offense DUI conviction depends on your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level, controlled substances in your system, or your decision to refuse blood or breath testing. The higher your BAC, the higher the penalties. Drugs in your system or a refusal to submit to breath or blood testing place you in the highest tier. Under Pennsylvania law, there are 3 tiers of punishment depending upon your BAC level:

  • BAC between .08 and .099%: Six months probation, no license suspension, no mandatory jail time, no ignition interlock device, a fine of $300, CRN evaluation (drug & alcohol assessment), treatment when ordered by the court, and alcohol highway safety school

  • BAC between .10 and .159%: Prison sentence of between two days and six months, license suspension for 12 months (eligibility to apply for occupational limited license (OLL) after 60 days), fines between $500 and $5,000, CRN evaluation, treatment when ordered by the court, and alcohol highway safety school, no ignition interlock device required

  • BAC of .16% or higher, controlled substance, or refusal to submit to testing: Prison sentence of a minimum of three days to a maximum of six months, license suspension for 12 months (eligibility to apply for an OLL after 60 days), fines between $1,000 and $5,000, treatment when ordered by the court, and alcohol highway safety school, no ignition interlock device required

DUI DRIVER'S LICENSE SUSPENSION

Aside from the penalties above for a first DUI offense, second and third offenses will result in your license being suspended for one year. This is the most damaging and destructive outcome of receiving a DUI. Losing the ability to drive can have a massive ripple effect on other areas of your life. 

Most importantly, losing your license can cause you to lose your job. Not being able to drive means it will be very difficult to report to work on time every day. Not being able to report to work often leads to termination. Even if you find another job, it will be just as difficult to get to and from a new job without a license. You might end up unemployed until you get your license reinstated. Some people are lucky enough to get help from friends or family, but it is still nearly impossible to fulfill your obligations without your own means of transportation. And, if you refuse to give breath or blood, you may receive an additional one year drivers license suspension from PennDOT.

SECOND DUI OFFENSE PENALTIES

Drivers convicted of a second DUI within ten years of a prior DUI face serious criminal and financial consequences. Not only will you face a mandatory term of incarceration, but you are likely to face additional penalties as well.

The higher the BAC, the more severe your penalties are likely to be. For example, the amount in fines that you will be ordered to pay if convicted of DUI will vary depending on your BAC level:

  • BAC between .08 and .09%: Minimum of 5 days and maximum of 6 months in jail, $300 to $2,500 in fines, license suspended for 12 months

  • BAC .10 and .159%: Minimum of 30 days and maximum of 6 months in jail, $750 to $5,000 in fines, license suspended for 12 months

  • BAC .16% and above: Minimum of 90 days and maximum of 5 years in jail, $1,500 to $10,000 in fines, license suspended for 18 months

  • Any BAC: Ignition interlock device installed for 1 year, up to 150 hours of community service, alcohol highway safety school, alcohol & drug treatment

THIRD DUI OFFENSE PENALTIES

If you have been convicted of two prior DUI's in the past 10 years, the next offense could involve a serious conviction. Depending on your BAC level at the time of arrest, you may face consequences that include:

  • BAC between .08 and .09%: 2nd-degree misdemeanor charges, minimum of 10 days and maximum of 2 years in prison, 12-month license suspension, $500 to $5,000 in fines

  • BAC between .10 and .159%: 1st-degree misdemeanor charges, minimum of 1 year and maximum of 5 years in prison, 18-month license suspension, $1,500 to $10,000 in fines

  • BAC .16% and above: 1st-degree misdemeanor charges and penalties similar to above

  • Any BAC: Drug & alcohol treatment, alcohol highway safety school, ignition interlock device installed for at least 1 year

UNDERAGE DUI

 

A DUI UNDER THE AGE OF 21 LANDS YOU IN THE "HIGH BAC" RATE IN PENNSYLVANIA

In Pennsylvania, minors are not allowed to consume any amount of alcohol and drive. Underage driving under the influence of alcohol carries very harsh penalties. Not only are the legal penalties increased, but the effects on car insurance and future employment are also severe. And driver under the age of 21 who is arrested for DUI in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is automatically charged under the state's "high" BAC rate. That means that even if it is the first offense, even if the amount of alcohol is minimal, the punishment is going to be severe.

The minimum penalties for high-level impairment include at least two days in prison with a maximum sentence of 6 months behind bars if convicted. There's a minimum fine of $500 and as much as $5,000, as well as a license suspension of 12 months. Required alcohol driving safety classes could also be required.

LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES OF UNDERAGE DUI

The long-term consequences of an underage DUI are significant. The cost of auto insurance will increase. On average in 2017, an underage DUI raised car insurance rates by 77%. The financial impact of the violation can linger for three to five years in most states. Depending on the driving history, auto insurance could be denied completely.

The impact of the DUI conviction won't be limited to auto insurance - a DUI conviction automatically becomes part of the permanent criminal record. This means that employers, colleges, universities, banks, friends, and even strangers will all be able to see a DUI conviction with a simple background check.

If your child has been arrested for underage DUI, it is important to take legal action as soon as possible. Our experienced underage DUI attorneys can help your child fight the charges and reduce the long term consequences of these charges.

CHEMICAL TESTING - BLOOD & BREATH TESTS

The police must conduct a breath test within two hours of the initial arrest or the results of the test may be deemed inadmissible in court. An officer will read you the Implied Consent Law, which states that all drivers agree to submit to a breath or blood test if suspected of DUI. However, a suspect still has the right to refuse any chemical testing.

Whether you agree to be tested or refuse, the police are almost assuredly going to follow through with the arrest for DUI. If there is a refusal, however, the police will view that as an admission of guilt as an unwillingness to be tested comes across as acceptance of failing the test. Breath refusal still carries its own penalties, including:

  • First Offense: 1-year drivers' license suspension

  • Second Offense: 18-month license suspension

  • Third Offense: 18-month license suspension

While those breath refusal penalties are in addition to other DUI penalties, there may be reasons why a test could not be conducted or a breath sample couldn't be validated. The District Attorney is tasked with proving a refusal, so refusal cases are worth fighting because they're defensible cases.

Police generally only request blood tests if there is suspicion of drug use based on the smell of marijuana or recovery of narcotics from the vehicle. Despite the inference that police and prosecution will try to draw a verdict from a refusal, many choose to refuse for other reasons that can be explained at trial. All drivers should be aware, however, that their driving privileges will likely be suspended for at least one year for a refusal regardless of the outcome of the criminal matter. 

 

FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a battery of three tests performed during a traffic stop in order to determine if a driver is impaired and if probable cause for an arrest is present. According to researchers, officers trained to conduct SFST's correctly identified alcohol-impaired drivers over 90% of the time using the results of SFST's. 

The three tests that make up the SFST are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand tests. The HGN test is performed to observe whether the driver's eyes involuntarily jerk as a stimulus is moved side to side. Both the walk-and-turn and one-leg stand tests are "divided attention" tests that are easily performed by most sober drivers. They require a subject to listen and follow instructions while performing simple physical movements. Impaired persons have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention to be divided between simple mental and physical tasks.

There are many factors that might render a person unable to successfully complete one or more of the SFST's. For instance, regarding the HGN test, the person asked to consent to such a test might suffering from an eye disease or condition that affects his/her ability to see and consequently confound the tests and results. Age, injury, or disease could also affect the ability of a person to perform the one-leg stand test or the walk-and-turn test. As a general rule, an officer should ask the DUI suspect whether they can give any reason why they cannot perform the test and their answer should be carefully noted in the officer's report. Other disabilities, such as deafness, should be taken into consideration and noted as well.

ADMISSABILITY OF STANDARDIZED FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS

Developed in the 1970s, these tests are scientifically validated, and are admissible as evidence in court in a majority of states. In the case of Commonwealth v. Weaver, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued a precedential opinion that the results of HGN testing are admissible at any hearings related to a court's consideration of probable cause, but the results are still not admissible at an actual trial. In Pennsylvania's DUI cases, criminal defense lawyers sometimes file pretrial motions seeking the suppression of blood-alcohol evidence and argue that the arresting officer did not have probable cause to arrest the person. The court's decision means that an officer will be permitted to testify about HGN results before a judge considering the pretrial motion, but the officer could not present the same testimony to a jury at a trial.

Aside from sobriety tests, officers are also permitted to use portable or preliminary breath tests (PBTs) in DUI investigations. While the officer obtained an alcohol concentration level reading on the breath test device, the actual reading on the device is not admissible at a trial. The results of a PBT test are not sufficiently reliable to show the amount of alcohol consumed. Instead, officers are only permitted to testify to the facts surrounding the administration of the test. However, sometimes the PBT test might help the defense. The results of the test could be used as exculpatory evidence concerning whether the officer has probable cause to make an arrest for DUI.

DUI IMPACT ON AUTO INSURANCE

Your rates could jump - or they could skyrocket. Companies estimate that your post-DUI rates could increase by anywhere between 40% - 60%, or even more. Auto insurance is seriously impacted by driving records. A DUI on a driving record causes auto insurers to view the driver as high-risk, and charge accordingly. 

Your car insurance company might drop you completely. Though they can't legally cancel your policy as soon as they know about the incident, they can decide not to renew your coverage once your current policy expires.

You might be paying more for years to come. It varies state-by-state, but expect to shell out an increased premium for at least three years.

You'll probably have to file an SR-22, FR-44, or FR-19. After a DUI, your state might require you to file one of these forms in order to prove that you're insured before they let you back on the road. SR-22's are also referred to as "statements of financial responsibility", and they're usually filed by your insurance company or agency on your behalf. You may not have to file an SR-22; again, that depends on incidental factors around the accident. 

 

DRIVING AFTER A DUI CONVICTION

DRIVING AFTER DUI CONVICTION: CAN YOU GET A WORK PERMIT?

If you plead or are otherwise found guilty of DUI in Pennsylvania, your driving privileges will be suspended. For a first offense DUI, the license will be suspended for one year.  Subsequent DUI convictions have more severe penalties.  It is possible to get a restricted drivers license to drive to work or school, but it depends on whether your DUI was also associated with a refusal to submit to a field sobriety test.

 

CONSEQUENCES OF REFUSING A BREATHALIZER TEST

When you get pulled over in Pennsylvania on suspicion of DUI, the police officer might ask you to take a breathalyzer test. When you become a licensed driver in Pennsylvania, the fine print on your application states that by signing your name, you imply you are giving consent to take a breathalyzer test whenever a law enforcement officer requests it. By refusing this test, you are breaking the law, even if you have not been drinking.  When you blow into this handheld device, it gives a reading of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The legal limit is 0.08 percent. 

Depending upon the jurisdiction, the officer might not ask you to take a breathalyzer test. Different police departments have different protocols for DUI stops. In some places, the officer might first subject you to a field sobriety test, which involves agility drills to help determine your level of intoxication. Only if you fail these tests can the officer ask you to take a breathalyzer. 

No matter which tests you are asked to take, refusal to do so may constitute a violation of the implied consent law and result in license suspension. 

OCCUPATIONAL LIMITED LICENSES

An occupational limited license (OLL) authorizes you to drive a designated motor vehicle, under certain conditions, when it is necessary for the driver’s occupation, work, trade, medical treatment, or study.   An OLL is often referred to as a work permit or bread and butter license.   

 

Unfortunately, if someone does get a breathalyzer refusal and his license is suspended for a 12-month period, there is no chance to get an occupational limited license.  In fact, you’ll serve a license suspension in addition to the one assessed for the DUI conviction.  Penalties for breathalyzer test refusals are harsher than those for DUI is many ways. 

For DUI, after a 60 day period into the DUI-related license suspension, that person would be eligible for an occupational limited license.  The OLL, once granted, applies to the final 10 months. Depending on your violations you may have to obtain an Ignition Interlock (II) Occupational Limited License (OLL).  So for the first 60 days, you cannot drive and your license is truly suspended. But for the final 10 months of a DUI-related suspension, you would be eligible for an occupational limited license. 

To Apply for an OLL: 

  1. You must complete Form DL-15 (PDF) Occupational Limited License Petition. Follow the instructions on the petition. 

  1. Send it, along with the appropriate fee, to the address listed on the form. Be sure to keep the DL-15A (PDF) portion with your OLL once received. 

  1. PennDOT will evaluate the petition and determine your eligibility by reviewing the violations on your driving record. 

  1. If you do not qualify for an OLL, you will be sent a letter denying your application. 

  1. If you qualify for an OLL, you will be sent an OLL camera card, which you will need to take to the nearest Photo License Center to have your photo taken and receive your OLL.